Famous Last Words
(Born Margaretha Geertruida “Grietje” Zella)
October 15, 1917
“It is unbelievable.”
At 18, Dutch-born Margaretha married an army officer, Rudolf John McLeod, whom she met through an advertisement he placed looking for a wife. The marriage was doomed from the start; McLeod was a violent alcoholic and syphilitic, giving syphilis to his wife who then passed their children. At 21, she informed her family she would be known by the artistic name Mata Hari, literally “eye of the day.” She left her husband around 5 years later, joining a circus as a horse rider. She later became an artist’s model and then an exotic dancer which brought her her fame.
Her act included stripping naked save for her headpiece, jewelry, and brassiere which she kept on due to being self-conscious of her small breasts. She also admitted to not being a very good dancer, but because she was the first to allow herself to be nude in public, she was extremely popular.
Posing as a Hindu princess, she became the mistress of rich men, and during WWI her Dutch nationality allowed her to cross borders to be with her lovers.
She was arrested in Paris, convicted of spying for Germany, and sentenced to death by firing squad. At the age of 41, wearing a grey dress and straw hat, she spoke her last words, declined a blindfold, and blew a kiss at the firing squad. Thirty years later, a prosecutor in her trial confessed there was no evidence of her alleged crimes.